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UK, Australian Government Websites Cryptojacked by Mining Malware

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Mining malware is spreading like wildfire, every week now we run another story on some platform or other falling victim to it. As cryptocurrencies become far more lucrative than ransomware or identity theft incidents of exploits will only increase. Various governmental departments in Australia and the UK were found frantically calling the tech guys over the weekend as their websites were compromised.

According to the Guardian as many as 5,000 websites were infected with a variant of the Coinhive mining malware. In the UK they included websites of National Health Services, the Student Loans Company, and several English councils in addition to the UK’s data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office. They have all been taken offline to deal with the issue.

Compromised plugin

The malicious miner came from a compromised plugin called BrowseAloud which enables blind and partially sighted people read content on websites. The script had the same operation as has been seen many times before; hijacking the machine’s hardware to mine for Monero. XMR is the number one crypto currency for criminals now since it is encrypted and anonymous leaving no trace to the destination wallets.

Plugin authors, Texthelp, took their own website offline to patch the compromised software;

“The company has examined the affected file thoroughly and can confirm that it did not redirect any data, it simply used the computers’ CPUs to attempt to generate cryptocurrency, The exploit was active for a period of four hours on Sunday. The Browsealoud service has been temporarily taken offline and the security breach has already been addressed,” 

The security consultant who documented the attack told media;

“This type of attack isn’t new – but this is the biggest I’ve seen. A single company being hacked has meant thousands of sites impacted across the UK, Ireland and the United States. There were ways the government sites could have protected themselves from this. It may have been difficult for a small website, but I would have thought on a government website we should have expected these defence mechanisms to be in place.”

Australian government websites using the same plugin were also compromised. They included the Victoria parliament, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, the Queensland ombudsman, the Queensland Community Legal Centre, and the Queensland legislation website.

Porn perps

According to researchers at China’s 360Netlab porn websites are responsible for the majority of mining malware on the internet.  It analyzed the relationship between domain names and prevalence of malware that hijacks computer hardware. Unsurprisingly 49% of those domain names containing the malware were porn sites.

Cyber security firm Symantec predicted that in-browser mining would turn into an “arms race” in 2018, brought about as attackers devise even more inventive and invasive ways of mining cryptocurrencies using other people’s hardware and energy.

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Bitcoin Miners Head to Rural Washington State

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In a parody of the mid-1800’s gold boom techno miners are following their predecessors to the banks of the Columbia River to Mine Bitcoin.

Go west Young Man

The small town of Wenatchee in rural North, Western Washington State is being tagged in tech blogs and major network coverage as a hub of Bitcoin mining.

We may normally picture hanger sized buildings full of servers in industrial China when thinking of Bitcoin mines. Wenatchee though is a picturesque small town set along the banks of the Columbia River surrounded by the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

And that location is exactly why it is becoming the Bitcoin mining boom town of America. There are several hydroelectric dams along the Columbia River that provides Wenatchee and the surrounding area with cheap electricity.

Electricity runs at 3-4 cents a kilowatt compared to the average cost in the US of 12 cents per kilowatt and the highest on the East and West coasts being around 20 cents, or Hawaii for that matter at over 30.

Cheap electricity, cool temperatures, and very fast internet connectivity.

This combination of cheap power and cool average yearly temperatures that keep the servers from overheating makes the area a very choice spot for mining.

“So we have not only low-cost electricity but also very good access to internet. People put those two together and think ‘opportunity for bitcoin’.”

Steve Wright, Director of Power.

Already home to a dozen of the largest Bitcoin mining operations in the country, with more scheduled to open up shop in late 2018, there has been no mention of any second thoughts due to the Dec. – Jan. price correction.

Malachi Salcido was one of the first to start mining in the Wenatchee region. His operation of 3 facilities currently mines 5-7 coins a day. Using 7.5 megawatts daily – enough to power 11,000 average homes – he is looking to expand his operation to mine 50 coins a day which would suck up an estimated 42 megawatts.

Local regulators have welcomed the mining operations but say at this point the town and more specifically the infrastructure to deliver the huge amount of electricity mines need is at capacity.

Though the electric is cheap Salcido’s monthly bill still exceeds $100,000. To him its worth it. He sees mining Bitcoin as not only a profitable business but also building part of the future.

“We mine bitcoin because bitcoin blockchain is becoming the cashless, peer-to-peer payment settlement system of the future. This is a true peer-to-peer settlement tech that once it’s mature is going to significantly disrupt these existing markets.”

Salcido said.

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Iceland May Implement Bitcoin Mining Tax Due to Energy Consumption

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Mining Bitcoin can be a lucrative venture under the right circumstances. With access to sufficient hardware, the mining process becomes a lot easier. Additionally, operators need cheap electricity to keep operational costs low. In Iceland, it seems the demand for electricity is on the rise thanks to Bitcoin mining. In fact, the electricity consumption for mining Bitcoin may outweigh the regular at-home consumption of the entire country.

Few regions provide access to affordable electricity these days. Iceland is one of best places to look for renewable energy. It is not surprising multiple Bitcoin mining firms have set up shop in the country over the years. With low electricity fees and a cold climate, Iceland is in a prime position when it comes to cryptocurrency mining. Thankfully, the region has an abundance of renewable energy to ensure this trend is manageable, for the time being. As is always the case, there are certain downsides to these developments as well.

The Future of Bitcoin Mining in Iceland

More specifically, there is a chance Bitcoin mining will be taxed in the future. Such a measure is suggested by Pirate Party’s Smari McCarthy. Whether or not this will become an official law, is a different matter altogether. Most Icelanders remain skeptical of speculation, which is a second nature in cryptocurrency. Any company creating value on Icelandic soil pays a certain amount of tax. There is no reason to think Bitcoin mining operations are any different in this regard.

Additionally, it appears the energy consumption associated with Bitcoin mining is on the rise. If this trend continues, the consumption will double to nearly 100 megawatts in 2018. That is a lot more than all of Iceland’s households consume during the same time period. Discussions about Bitcoin mining’s energy-hungry nature have become more vocal in other countries as well. Even though Iceland has lots of renewable energy solutions, the government will seek something in return for their efforts.

Compared to traditional payment methods, Bitcoin mining is extremely energy-intensive. Processing a credit card transaction is not without its costs either, though. It is evident these discussions will always attract a lot of different opinions. In the end, it comes down to how Icelandic officials want to “treat” this business model moving forward. Introducing a tax for Bitcoin miners is not ludicrous, although it won’t be a popular decision either. Given the lack of Bitcoin regulation in the country, it remains to be seen how this situation unfolds.

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Russian Engineers Arrested for Mining Bitcoin at Federal Nuclear Center

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A team of Russian nuclear engineers have been arrested for allegedly using a powerful government supercomputer at the Federal Nuclear Center to mine Bitcoin. In a statement, the center’s press service said: “There has been an unsanctioned attempt to use computer facilities for private purposes including so-called mining.”

The supercomputer was not supposed to be connected to the internet — to prevent misuse — and once the scientists got online, the nuclear center’s security department was alerted. The scientists were then handed over to the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Bitcoin mining is the process by which transactions are verified and added to the public ledger, known as the blockchain. And cryptocurrency enthusiasts are rewarded lucratively for mining with a stash of newly minted cryptographically-signed Bitcoin.

The number of scientists has not been specified, but they are understood to have worked at the restricted Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF), located in the city of Sarov, Nizhny Novgorod. Head of the institute’s press service, Tatyana Zalesskaya, confirmed the arrests to Russian news agency Interfax.

She added that she understood a criminal case has been brought against the engineers: “Similar attempts have recently been registered in a number of large companies with large computing capacities, which will be severely suppressed at our enterprises, this is technically a hopeless and criminal offense.”

The Federal Nuclear Center — the heart of Russia’s nuclear operations — reportedly employs up to 20,000 people and its supercomputer boasts a capacity of 1 petaflop, the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second. It’s a perfect fit, as mining cryptocurrencies requires great computational power and huge amounts of energy.

In the Cold War, the USSR’s first nuclear bomb was produced at Sarov, during Joseph Stalin’s rule. The top-secret town was not even marked on Soviet maps and special permits are still required for Russians to visit it. The town is surrounded by a tightly guarded no-man’s-land, with barbed wire fences to keep the curious away. There are even suspicions that the radioactive polonium-210 used to kill ex-FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 came from Sarov.

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Cryptocurrency Mining Boosts Nvidia Earnings During Q4 2017

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The public interest in cryptocurrency mining has never been higher. Graphics cards are flying off the shelves. Everyone with access to relatively cheap electricity wants to capitalize on this cryptocurrency craze. As such, companies such as Nvidia see a nice increase in quarterly earnings. In fact, the concept of cryptocurrency mining boosted the company’s revenue during Q4 of 2017. A positive trend for the company, as AMD has noted similar revenue increases as well.

The most recent Nvidia quarterly earnings call was rather interesting. With company revenue up, no one has any complaints whatsoever. The main catalyst for this revenue increase comes from cryptocurrency mining. With thousands of people buying up dozens of graphics cards to mine Ethereum or other cryptocurrencies, Nvidia cards are in high demand. Even though AMD has some solid cards too, Nvidia’s products offer a competitive advantage in the higher-tier segment.

A Very Positive Quarter for Nvidia

For now, the company isn’t too sure how many sales were generated by cryptocurrency mining. Quantifying such developments is extremely difficult right now. After all, the company sells tens of thousands of GPU’s every single year. Most of those end up as part of regular PC builds. However, Nvidia doesn’t deny the fact cryptocurrency mining has done wonders for their business last quarter. Compared to Q3 of 2017, the projected revenue from mining sales is higher in Q4. That in itself is a positive trend for both the company and cryptocurrency in general.

Although this is great news, Nvidia expects this trend to taper off pretty quickly. With falling cryptocurrency prices, making such a major mining equipment investment is no longer feasible for a lot of people. Cryptocurrency is volatile by nature and so are the trends associated with this industry.  As such, the company will not hold out high hope for future cryptocurrency mining-related sales. This current windfall is beneficial to the company, but things can always turn around rather quickly.

Nvidia investors are quite pleased with the recent earnings call. Some of them remain optimistic about Nvidia’s impact on cryptocurrency mining. Graphics card sales will not go down much anytime soon. Even if the cryptocurrency crowd backs off, their video cards are still the go-to solution for most gamers. Moreover, Nvidia makes a big impact on artificial intelligence and scientific research as well. The revenue will not dry up if cryptocurrency mining is no longer profitable. In fact, the company expects this form of revenue to remain flat or even decline slightly in Q1 of 2018.

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